By Bill Deere, NATA Senior Vice President for Government and External Affairs
On Wednesday, the full House Appropriations Committee approved for floor action the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015 that will begin on October 1, 2014. Of interest to NATA members, the legislation includes next year’s spending levels for the FAA. Less well known is that a report prepared by the Committee accompanies the legislation and provides greater detail on the spending levels for individual FAA programs as well as expressions of congressional interest and required reports on a variety of aviation related subjects.
While we know the bill provides in total $15.7 billion to the FAA for next year, $446 million above the administration request, the bill language is important as, once enacted, it establishes in law the overall spending levels for the FAA’s major accounts including; operations, facilities and equipment, airport infrastructure grants, and research and development. It also includes bill language for programs important to general aviation including language setting minimum spending levels for the contract tower program ($140 million) and its cost share program ($9.5 million). In fact, earlier in the development of the legislation, NATA joined a number of other aviation associations in a letter to the House and Senate Appropriators requesting this action. Most important, the bill includes language prohibiting the FAA from finalizing or implementing “any regulation that would promulgate new aviation user fees not specifically authorized by law.” This prevents the agency from unilaterally establishing a user fee funded air traffic control system and this type of bill language is known around the Hill as a “limitation.”
The legislation, already 155 pages long, would be many times that size if Congress were to include in the text spending levels for every program within each major category of spending. And because the spending levels would be enacted into law, there could be no deviation from those levels even if a problem were to develop. Hence the need for a report to accompany the legislation that further explains congressional intent. Report language does not have statutory force and departments and agencies are not legally bound by their declarations. But as the Congressional Research Service explains (CRS 98-558), “executive branch agencies take them (report language) seriously because they must justify their budget requests annually to the Appropriations Committees.”
So the report accompanying this year’s Transportation Appropriations bill amplifies on the Committee’s funding for the contract tower program, describing the program as “a safe, cost-efficient mechanism for providing air traffic services to pilots and local communities.” The Committee also expressed its concern about the certification of air operators and the consistency of its rulings across field offices noting, “Lengthy delays in certification approvals present real barriers to companies seeking to operate in the National Airspace System, limiting the economic growth of the aviation industry.” Further, it directed the agency to prepare a report by April 1, 2015 on its progress in making the certification process more efficient.
The Committee also looked at a variety of other issues including performance based navigation, providing its work with funding above the administration request. Finally, on the research side, the Committee provided additional funding for alternative general aviation fuels stating that it “looks forward to updates on the continued progress on this initiative as it effectively balances environmental improvement with aviation safety, technical challenges, and economic impact.”
The full House will take up the legislation in the next two weeks. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee has begun the development of its own version of the bill. The passage of the bills by their respective chambers will trigger a “conference” between House and Senate Appropriators to resolve the differences between the two versions. These are important pieces of legislation that have a great impact on the future of the FAA and the industry. NATA will continue to keep you apprised as events unfold.
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